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Seriously, Hollywood? Why Broadway fans aren't more excited about movie musicals

Broadway actors are stars, too.

Fresh off my post from last week discussing the casting of Michelle Williams in the 2014 Broadway revival of Cabaret and the inevitable discussion of Hollywood actors taking gigs from Broadway performers, I can't help but put in my two cents on a closely related matter. Because, like many loyal Broadway fans, it not only irks me to see screen stars (who may or may not have much stage experience or musical talent to speak of) getting lead roles in Broadway shows, but when the joyous day arrives for an exceptional Broadway show to be adapted to film and shared with the world, it kills me to see Broadway stars snubbed in the casting process.

Take for instance the new Into the Woods film. A little piece of me died with each new casting announcement. Make no mistake--I, too bow to the heavenly gift that is Meryl Streep and acknowledge that she can do no wrong, and I must say that I was pleasantly surprised at her performance in the Mamma Mia! film, but seeing Bernadette Peters killing it again as the Witch, this time on the big screen, would have been an epic experience. I am a huge fan of James Corden and Emily Blunt (the Baker and the Baker's Wife, respectively), and I don't think Chip Zien and Joanna Gleason could have pulled off reprising their roles from the original production so many years later, but there are so many talented Broadway stars who could have really turned it out on these iconic characters. Anna Kendrick is certainly talented, but she already stole the part in The Last Five Years film from Betsy Wolfe, and now she's taking one of the most coveted roles in musical theatre from the likes of Jesse Mueller (who could easily reprise her performance from the recent Shakespeare in the Park revival).

I'm sensing that you're angry. Why do you think that is?

I don't think that non-Broadway fanatics quite understand the reasons why we get so up in arms about star casting. When a Hollywood actor comes and takes a lead role in a Broadway musical, I think the resentment is understandable. We all have our favorite triple threats, and we want to see them get what they've worked hard for. And it grinds our gears to see some movie star come in after filming a movie one time and making millions of dollars when our stars give amazing performances eight times a week (for much less than a million dollars).

PsychiatristBut when a musical is adapted to film, most people probably delight in seeing big names nabbing the parts, curious to see how they will tackle the material and excited to see them flex their acting chops with the vivid characters. Most people are not worried that the vocal performances may not be up to snuff. The general public either didn't know or didn't care that Russell Crowe was a disappointing Javert in the Les Miserables movie, but Broadway fans have a lot more to say about it. One of our guys could have annihilated that role (Terrence Mann, Norm Lewis, this list goes on...). Yes, Russell Crowe has done more big blockbuster movies, but why in the world would you not want to cast someone who has had the chance to get to know the character inside and out by playing it to live audiences every night? Someone who is an accomplished musical theatre singer? Because they won't draw as large an audience to the theatres and they won't sell as many DVDs. Maybe we Broadway fans should really be mad at commercialism for tampering with our art.

Ten casting choices that that could have been

  • Film: Sweeney Todd | Role: Mrs. Lovett | Who they cast: Helena Bonham Carter | Who they should've cast: Patti LuPone | Why: Helena Bonham Carter is an excellent character actress and can carry a tune (see Les Mis and The Corpse Bride), but Patti is one of the biggest Broadway divas around. Plus, she played this role on Broadway while playing the tuba. She can do anything.
  • Film: Mamma Mia! | Role: Donna Sheridan | Who they cast: Meryl Streep | Who they should've cast: Carolee Carmello | Why: Meryl certainly brought Donna to life in a charming performance, but big-voiced Broadway favorite Carolee Carmello could have crushed the part vocally. She belted out, among other things, the ballad "The Winner Takes It All" at the Winter Garden Theatre on and off for four years, so she would have been perfect for the job.
  • Film: The Phantom of the Opera | Role: The Phantom | Who they cast: Gerard Butler | Who they should've cast: Hugh Panaro | Why: Hugh Panaro has a long history with Phantom, having played Raoul and then the Phantom in several engagements on Broadway. Gerard Butler surprised me with his singing, but the character and the score are in Panaro's bones.
  • Film: Les Miserables | Role: Marius | Who they cast: Eddie Redmayne | Who they should've cast: Hadley Fraser | Why: I was unimpressed with Redmayne as Marius. His look and his voice left me wanting. Hadley Fraser, a West End star and male lead Tiernan from Boublil and Schonberg's The Pirate Queen on Broadway, has a huge, rich voice and is no stranger to Les Mis, so he would have been perfect.
  • Film: Rock of Ages | Role: Patricia Whitmore | Who they cast: Catherine Zeta-Jones | Who they should've cast: No one | Why: That character wasn't even in the musical. I have to give it up to Catherine; she was great in Chicago, but they turned an already cheesy musical into a mess of a movie, and Patricia Whitmore was an unwelcome addition.
  • Film: Hairspray | Role: Penny Pingleton | Who they cast: Amanda Bynes | Who they should've cast: Diana DeGarmo | Why: Amanda Bynes is not a singer, plain and simple. Penny's charm is in the fact that she is a reserved, nerdy girl who awakens into a strong, confident belt monster. I saw Diana DeGarmo play Penny on Broadway and she had the right stuff.
  • Film: Dreamgirls | Role: Effie White | Who they cast: Jennifer Hudson | Who they should've cast: ... | Why: Just kidding! Man, she killed that. Despite the Hollywood factor, they got people who could really sing for this movie. (And shout out to Broadway's Anika Noni Rose!)
  • Film: The Producers | Role: Ulla | Who they cast: Uma Thurman | Who they should've cast: Sutton Foster | Why: While "Uma played Ulla" is fun to say, I wish they had gotten Sutton Foster to do it. Her role (in the hay) as Inga in Young Frankenstein shows just how good she could have been as the sexy, foreign assistant.
  • Film: Annie | Role: Miss Hannigan | Who they cast: Kathy Bates | Who they should've cast: Christine Baranski | Why: Christine Baranski is a big movie and TV star, but she is a Broadway baby at heart (she is a two-time Tony winner, and she stays involved with the theatre, so she is welcome back any time!). Kathy Bates is a treasure, but Baranski is a character role master.
  • Film: Into the Woods | Role: Cinderella's Prince | Who they cast: Chris Pine | Who they should've cast: Aaron Tveit | Why: Maybe I should save my judgment until the movie comes out, but my instinct is that they cast Captain Kirk to draw a certain audience. Next to Normal and Catch Me If You Can star Tveit would be a perfect prince.
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